Daly City, Calif. – Ashlan Ramsey certainly would love to have her talking dictated by her play, not her pants.
But it was awfully hard not to notice the 16-year-old Milledgeville, Ga., resident on Wednesday at Lake Merced Golf Club. Wearing black-and-white checkered pants that looked like a chess board, Ramsey managed to produce a just-as-colorful on-course performance in the first round of the 64th U.S. Girls’ Junior, posting a 5-and-4 win over Danielle Lee, of La Mirada, Calif.
Interesting enough, the designer of the clothing line, Steve “Woody” Woodworth is a Lake Merced member.
“I actually saw Woody out here yesterday,” said Ramsey. “He was very nice.”
Ramsey’s match-play record in 2012 has also been worth smiling about. Last month, she reached the finals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links at Neshanic Valley G.C. in New Jersey. Add Wednesday’s victory and her record stands at 6-1.
“Getting the transition into the match-play mindset has gotten easier,” said Ramsey. “I feel like that helped. [The WAPL] was really good preparation for this [championship]. I feel like I am more acquainted with match play and more confident now.”
Ramsey has teamed up with older sister, Taylor, who is on the bag this week. Taylor, an accomplished player herself who is headed to Clemson this fall, doesn’t caddie often for her younger sister, but the two mesh well on the course.
“I think it helps to have a different look at things because she reads putts a little bit differently,” said Ashlan, who will join Taylor at Clemson in the fall of 2013 when the Tigers field their first women’s golf team. “She knows what she is talking about.”
Southern California Dreamin’
As luck would have it, three first-round matches pitted players from Southern California, and in one case, players from the same high school league.
Amy Lee, of Brea, a semifinalist last year, faced Jennifer Yu, of Huntington Beach. The two routinely see each other in Century League matches in the fall.
“I’m actually good friends with her,” said Lee after her 5-and-4 win. “It kind of sucked [to play her].”
Lee said the banter was limited during the match.
“Nothing other than golf,” said Lee.
The same was true in the match between Alice Jeong, of Gardena, and Lilia Kha-Tu Vu, of Fountain Valley. Jeong, who earned a 4-and-3 victory, said the two know each other from area competitions, but attend schools in different leagues.
“You have to put that [friendship] aside and just play golf,” said Jeong, a semifinalist at last month’s Women’s Amateur Public Links. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
Jeong said her experience at the WAPL helped her confidence for the Girls’ Junior.
“Even though I didn’t make it to the high seeds in stroke play (No. 59), I am just glad I made it to match play,” said Jeong. “It’s a whole different game. It’s different and I know what to do.”
The final Southern California match saw Hee Wook Choi, of San Diego, defeat Cha Cha Willhoite, of Palm Desert, 4 and 3. Willhoite got into the Girls’ Junior field last week as an alternate.
The best comeback of the first round came from fifth-seeded Casey Danielson, 17, of Osceola, Wis. Down four with five to play, Danielson won the last five holes to eliminate Stephanie Lau, of Fullerton, Calif., 1 up. Of those final five holes, three were won with birdies, including the par-5 18th to close out the match.
Danielson, ranked 29th in the Women’s World Amateur Ranking, was a quarterfinalist at last year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Comeback Part II
Down two with three to play, Alexandra Kaui managed to rally for a 1-up win over fellow Hawaiian Allisen Corpuz. Kaui rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-5 18th to close out the match.
The two golfers grew up in the Hawaii Junior Golf Association together, but said little on the golf course all day.
“Nice shot, good putt,” said Kaui, who grew up in Kapolei, but moved to Las Vegas with her family three years ago.
Corpuz led throughout the match, building as much as a 3-up lead on the first nine. The youngest qualifier in USGA history – she surpassed fellow Hawaiian Michelle Wie in 2008 when she made the Women’s Amateur Public Links field at Erin Hills as a 10-year-old – couldn’t close the deal, making bogeys at 16 and 17. She was putting for a 6 when Kaui rolled in her birdie at 18.
“I told myself I had three holes to get back into it,” said Kaui of her mindset heading to the 16th tee. “So I tried to win back to back and I really forced myself to put the pressure on her and perform. Then on the last hole … I didn’t want to play extra holes.”
Calling it her best shot of the day, Kaui stuffed her wedge approach from 110 yards at No. 18. Corpuz’s third bounced into the fringe and her par putt rolled 5 feet past the hole.
“All day long, my approach shots weren’t working,” said Kaui, who will attend the University of Oklahoma in the fall of 2013. “Thankfully it worked on this hole.”
Grinding It Out
Two past Girls’ Junior runners-up had to muster all of their energy to pull out first-round wins. Katelyn Dambaugh, 17, of Goose Creek, S.C., never led in her match against Minjia Luo, of San Diego, until winning the par-5 18th with a par. Dambaugh, who lost the 2010 final to Doris Chen at The Country Club of North Carolina, said she drew on her past two Girls’ Junior experiences.
“I tried not to get too down on myself,” said Dambaugh, who next faces defending champion and medalist Ariya Jutanugarn, of Thailand. “I just didn’t have many putts fall for me. Luckily, I made it through.”
Dambaugh had a small following, which included the University of South Carolina coach (she will play for the Gamecocks in 2013), her parents and Sabrina Bonnano, a competitor from Illinois who failed to make match play.
Karen Chung, the 2008 runner-up to Lexi Thompson at Hartford Golf Club, needed to win holes 16 and 18 just to force extra holes against Courtney Dow, of Frisco, Texas. Chung, 17, of Livingston, N.J., won 16 when Dow missed a 4-foot par putt, then birdied the par-5 18th by draining a 13-foot putt that had 18 inches of break.
“I just got lucky,” said the diminutive Chung. “I am so relieved.”
Chung planned to get in some practice time on the range to straighten out what has been a crooked driver.
“The first day of stroke play, I didn’t know where it was going,” said Chung, competing in her 10th USGA championship and fifth Girls’ Junior. “I just kept saying, ‘Go anywhere in the fairway please.’ ”
Nicole Morales, 16, of South Salem, N.Y., had at least a half-dozen college coaches keeping an eye on her first-round match against Lauren Johnson, of Chattanooga, Tenn.
Vanderbilt, Tulane, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Duke were among the schools seen in Morales’ small gallery.
“I think about it a little bit but I kind of just let it go,” said Morales, who recorded the day’s largest margin of victory, a 9-and-8 decision that was nearly a Girls’ Junior record. “I just have them blend in with the background – I don’t really pay attention to them. It’s good to know that they’re following. I played really well, so it’s good that they saw that, but I was more worried about myself than them.”
Morales, who will be a high school junior and won’t play college golf until the fall of 2014, said she has made unofficial visits to Alabama, North Carolina and Vanderbilt, but is still sorting through her list.
“I’m just trying to keep my options open,” said Morales, competing in her fourth Girls’ Junior. “Everything is great.”
Andrea Wong, a Junior Merit member at Lake Merced Golf Club, became a free agent on Tuesday after her player, Katherine Sborov failed to qualify for match play.
The 17-year-old from San Francisco wasn’t on the market very long. Megan Khang, 14, of Rockland, Mass., who used a push cart during the two rounds of stroke-play qualifying, quickly grabbed the services of the affable Wong. Khang played in the U.S. Women’s Open two weeks ago at Blackwolf Run.
Wong, who will play for UC Davis in the fall, was unsuccessful in her attempt to make the Girls’ Junior field, along with her twin sister, Alexandra. Alexandra, who will play for Princeton University in the fall, just returned from Oregon on Tuesday after trying to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
“We talked about other things than golf,” said Khang, who defeated Kathleen Gallagher, 5 and 3. “We talked about colleges, and then when we got to the ball we did talk yardages. But when we were walking, we just kept our minds off things. I just like having someone that’s not always on golf, so you can have a conversation, so that way, I don’t have to keep thinking, ‘What am I going to do here?’ I can just say, ‘Hey, what color shorts do you have?’ That’s what we talked about! ‘I have this short, that short.’ It was fun. She’s nice.”
Another Junior Merit member, Domingo Jojola, is serving as Lydia Ko’s caddie. Jojola, now a pro who still has playing privileges at Lake Merced, said he has been ultra-impressed with the World No. 1 amateur’s game. Ko earned the No. 2 seed from qualifying.
Old College Try?
Some might think it far-fetched that Ko, the top-ranked female amateur, would be thinking about college. But the 15-year-old from New Zealand likes school and is thinking of playing college golf in the U.S.
Ko still has two more years of high school before such a decision would be required.
“I’m really interested [in college],” said Ko, a 7-and-6 winner over Mikayla Harmon. “Back in New Zealand, people from my province, there’s been many that have gone to college. One of my friends went to Pepperdine and all around the world, like Mississippi. When I see them, it makes me want to go to college was well.”
Ko has indicated she would like to attend a school in California. Stanford is high on her list, but UCLA also has been mentioned.
“My goal is to go to Stanford,” she said. “It is a very academic school and by how much I’m missing school, I’m realizing it’s going to take a good effort to go there. But I’ve seen UCLA, so I’m getting interested in that school as well because it’s a really good school and around here, it doesn’t snow.
“I want to stay in this area (California), and I’m really looking forward to graduating and going to college because I think that will be a good experience.”
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. Email him at email@example.com. Christina Lance, coordinator of championship communications for the USGA, also contributed.